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What Makes a Will Invalid?

There are a number of reasons a will could be considered invalid. Here’s how to identify and contest an invalid will in Virginia.

One of the most important documents you will ever write is your last will and testament; yet many, to their own detriment, erroneously believe that they don’t need a will. These common misconceptions include not owning “many” assets, not being “old enough,” or just assuming their closest relatives are aware of and will carry out their wishes. And contrary to popular belief, holographic wills—or handwritten wills by the testator, or person making the will—may not hold up in court.

A man is sitting at table looking out the window and is stressed about his invalid will.

In a perfect world, everyone would band together when a loved one dies and be aligned on carrying out their last wishes. In reality, though, not having a valid will can create a ripple effect of family disputes that end up in probate court, costing time, money, and irreparable damage to relationships within families with the courts making the final decisions. It is not uncommon for family members who feel slighted by a loved one’s last will and testament, who didn’t get what they believe to be their fair share of the estate, to attempt to have a will declared invalid by contesting it in court.

Most people who end up in a lengthy, costly court battle contesting the will of a recently-deceased loved one (or being on the receiving end of a disgruntled family member contesting a will they may not have been included in) didn’t consider that this could be an outcome for them. Unfortunately, it’s not until it’s too late that they realize the gravity and dire consequences of not having the proper, legally-standing documentation in place much sooner. 

Here’s everything you need to know about what makes a will invalid and how to contest an invalid will.

When is a Will Invalid?

A will may be declared invalid if it does not follow state law requirements. Additionally, a will that is too ambiguous, contains missing information or inaccuracies, or appears written under suspicious circumstances, someone may try to contest or challenge it, having it declared invalid in probate court.

Some common reasons a will may be declared invalid include:

  • The will has been forged
  • The deceased lacked testamentary capacity, or the mental capacity to coherently make decisions and write a will
  • The deceased was a victim of undue influence or was manipulated or pressured when writing their will
  • The deceased was a victim of elderly abuse or duress, threatened with violence, abuse, or other unethical, coercive action
  • The will was not signed, witnessed, or notarized appropriately 
  • The deceased did not approve the contents of their will
  • The person who created the will can be proven to have been mentally ill, incapacitated, or otherwise lacked the capacity to make a will

How to Contest an Invalid Will

While laws vary by state, to contest a will in Virginia, you must:

  • Confirm that you are an “interested person” by legal definition. An interested person means someone who is entitled to receive property under the will or under the intestate laws of Virginia.
  • Determine whether or not you have grounds to contest the will based on the aforementioned reasons a will could be deemed invalid.
  • Submit a bill explaining your interest and reason for challenging the will per Virginia Code section 64-1.88.

If you believe a will is invalid, acting quickly is critical as the time limit for contesting a will is typically one year from the date the will is probated (or filed in the clerk of court’s office). If you are involved in a will contest or have questions about the validity of a will, seeking trusted specialized legal counsel can help simplify the process, ensure important deadlines are not missed, and give you peace of mind. 

Mobile Estate Planning Made Easy

The process of getting a legitimate will in place for you and your family can be overwhelming, confusing, and costly, but it doesn’t have to be! At Assurest, we offer simple, affordable solutions for your legal needs and make the process easy by coming to you for the conversation—meeting you in your home or, if you prefer, virtually or over the phone.

Serving Richmond, Virginia and beyond, our experienced and trustworthy professionals simplify the process using clear, understandable language free of legal jargon and provide flat-rate packages, so you’re never surprised by the bill. Contact us today and rest assured that your affairs are in order and your loved ones are protected.

Disclaimer: This material is intended for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  Responses to inquiries, whether by email, telephone, or other means, do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create or imply the existence of an attorney-client relationship.

Written By
Matthew Reinaker
January 30, 2023
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